The most common thing people complain of is neck pain, and it’s really easy to see why…
Ten years ago – neck pain was still present, but nothing like it is now.
Especially in young children!
Take one guess why?
If you guessed “devices” you’re correct!
The single biggest cause of muscular skeletal causes of neck pain we see every single day is quite possibly, what you’re reading these words on!!
1. Neck Pain Causes
Like so many other regions of the body, neck pain is caused by many things.
And – as a healthcare practitioner, we’re trained to see if we can try and help diagnose the actual issue.
The main reasons people feel neck pain:
- Muscular issues
- Joint issues
- Degenerative change
- Disc issues
- Nerve issues
- Space occupying lesions
The muscle may be weak, and the brain will force you to feel pain, because it doesn’t want you to “break” the muscle.
This is so often the case.
For the most part, neck pain is simply a muscular and/or joint problem.
Your brain will force your muscles to “tighten” but in actual fact, they’re WEAK. Therefore, strength exercises will help!
What can also happen is joint in the neck – (there are quite a few) cane become stiff, degenerative, and cause inflammation.
When the inflammation is bad – you can get minor nerve compression.
When the inflammation and degeneration is excessive – over time this can cause more nerve compression.
When there’s too much movement in one area – your cervical/neck discs can become degenerative, and even “prolapse”, which will give severe neck/shoulder and/or arm pain.
Joints that get overused, simply “wear out”.
You can of course have an accident, and get whiplash, which can prolapse a disc in your neck.
Some presentations can be too acute for clinicians like Osteopaths to treat, and require other intervention.
Only if you visit a highly trained clinician such as an Osteopath, will you be able to really know what the cause of the neck pain is, and what you can do about it.
2. Neck Assessment
Neck pain assessment revolves around several key points:
- Active range of motion
- Passive range of motion
- Special tests
Like everything that an Osteopath sees in clinic, it all starts with a thorough case history!
We ask a lot of different questions, because believe it or not, we’re trying to make sure we can actually HELP you.
Because on occasion – we can’t.
After checking your history to make sure we have a clear path for testing you, we then look at how you move.
We ask questions like:
- Do you have full range?
- Is it sore on bending back?
- Sore on rotation?
- Sore on bending forward?
All of these things give us information.
- Is your neck pain worse when WE feel your neck?
- Where is it sore?
- What makes it worse?
- What makes it better?
All of these sort of questions are running through our heads when we’re looking at you.
Sometimes we need to do “special” tests which relate more to specific pathologies, like disc origin pain.
And while no test is 100% conclusive, it gives us a much better idea as to the “possible” cause.
For example – if your neck pain is worse looking up at to the left, it could be a number of things – but if it’s giving pain radiating into the left shoulder blade and/or left arm, it may be a disc issue.
In this case our treatment would be different, and we may refer for further tests.
3. Neck Pain Diagnosis
Diagnosing neck pain is usually straight forward.
We don’t however, have a crystal ball, or Xray vision.
We need to make sure that your spine is ok to be able to treat – and that your treatment expectations are met.
When do you need X-Rays?
You only need X-Rays or MRI’s if we think the result of which may change your treatment outcomes.
For example, If you’re slightly older, and you’ve got a very stiff neck – we would be crazy to not assume that some degenerative changes were present, even before getting X-Rays or imaging done.
Or another example: You’ve had a significant trauma, and may have a fracture.
Or we suspect some other cause of your neck pain.
Most X-Rays show as “negative” for us – but there’s almost ALWAYS something “shown” on the images, even if that doesn’t match your signs and symptoms.
It’s important to note that just because something “shows’ on imaging, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the actual cause of your pain…
So – in order to diagnose, we will sometimes refer for imaging – X-Ray or MRI.
But this is definitely not the “norm”.
When do we refer for MRI instead of X-Ray?
When we want to see the structures that are not “bone”, as X-Rays only show the bone, and some “shadows” of other tissue, but nothing else.
MRI’s pretty much show everything you need to see.
4. Neck Exercises
You’ve got to remember, and your therapists *should* know – that not all neck pain is the same, and not all neck pain is fixable by exercises.
Just like not all neck pain is fixable by manipulation.
There is one rule though.
Your neck is connected to your body!
Weakness and tension elsewhere in other muscles and structures can affect the neck – in a form of “chain” – with the neck being part of that “chain”.
For example… if you’re sitting there reading this, turn your head to the left as far as you can. Really far.
See how you star using your shoulders? See how you start turning your chest?
This is an example of a “chain” of muscles – in effect – working as a “team”.
So – it makes sense to help take load AWAY from the neck in some instances.
It also makes sense to strengthen the neck directly in some instances.
You can check our appointment availability here.
5. Neck Pain Relief
To get neck pain relief, obviously you’ve got to have a clinician like an Osteopath who’s looking at the whole picture.
Simply doing exercises doesn’t cut it.
Simply getting a massage doesn’t cut it.
Simply getting your neck “cracked” doesn’t cut it.
It’s really really important for your practitioner to look at the whole picture.
Take a look at this picture of the woman squatting.
Even though “most” of her effort is in her glutes/hips and quads/thigh (this is where she’ll feel it)…
…her ENTIRE rear spine muscles are working. Right up to her…
You simply cannot do this movement, without using your neck.
So… what if you’ve got neck PAIN?
Do you think there’s a possibility that you might have issues somewhere other than your neck?
Of course this is possible.
But it’s not ABSOLUTE.
There are no absolute rules in your body, with respect to pain, and how YOU feel it.
An Osteopath will help you:
a) Find the reason why the neck pain is there
b) Do something about it
c) Help you keep it away – where possible.
6. Neck Pain Prevention
There’s a couple of simple concepts in manual therapy.
If it hurts really badly, stop doing the thing that makes it hurt really badly.
If doing the exercise and/or stretch makes you feel better, then – wouldn’t you know it?? Your brain is saying “Thank you” for what you’re doing – I’ll give you less pain now…
It’s literally like that.
If the cause is simple, and posture related – it goes without saying that fixing your posture makes reasonable sense!!
How do you do this?
Ergonomics at work/home and exercise mobility work to “undo” the tension you create at work or school.
The absolute massive issue we’ve got now though is the fact that so many people are literally GLUED to their screens – especially the phone.
It’s an epidemic.
We see at least 5 times more young kids with poor posture due to inactivity and muscle weakness.
And – this is all in the past 10 years…
We don’t think so.
The shear weight of your head when looking down at a phone, causes the neck muscles to be used in a way that they’re not designed.
It does NOT help your neck.
Limiting time on devices, or being aware of this – is a great start, especially for young kids, who are “brought up” with phones and devices these days.
It will save their necks a massive amount in the future…
7. Osteopathic Treatment
Osteopaths look at you as a “whole” picture.
We never focus ONLY on the neck, so an Osteopaths treatment of your neck pain will include looking at related structures.
This could include massage, joint manipulation, dry needling, stretching type exercises and strength work.
All of this is to try and take away the reason why you have pain.
Try and help you keep that pain away for as long as possible.